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Humble garden pea helps Kew scientists develop 'cool,' noninvasive diagnostic test of seed quality
Date:2/1/2010

Scientists from Kew's Millennium Seed Bank in the United Kingdom and the University of Graz, Austria, have developed a rapid, new method to diagnose seed quality non-invasively and in real time. The results are published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and have great significance for conservation ecology and agriculture. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0914197107

By using infrared temperature measurement, seed viability results are achieved in less than two hours. Until now time-consuming germination tests, taking up to three days, were used to assess seed quality. Conventional tests are also destructive, which is not ideal when assessing the seeds of rare and endangered plants.

Dr. Ilse Kranner, from Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, and Prof. Gerald Kastberger (University of Graz, Austria) found that infrared cameras can be used to detect subtle changes in temperature when seeds take up water. These changes vary with viability.

The thermal profiles of hundreds of garden pea seeds (Pisum sativum) were recorded. For each individual seed 22,000 images were analysed to construct a library of "thermal fingerprints" that allowed the scientists to distinguish between viable and dead seeds in less than two hours.

When a dry seed takes up water, the sugar within the seed dissolves, and this process cools the seed down. The temperature of a single pea seed falls rapidly by 2 to 3C. Viable seeds maintain cool temperatures because they break down storage reserves into sugar.

In aged seeds, certain biophysical properties are affected that determine the speed of water uptake. Aged seeds also fail to break down their reserves, or can only break them down after a phase of repair, delaying the thermal profile. To date such processes were studied with destructive methods that involved grinding up seeds, whereas the new infrared-based
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Contact: Ilse Kranner
i.kranner@kew.org
44-014-448-94157
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
Source:Eurekalert

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